The Northwest Passage: In the wake of Larsen and the St. Roch

Episode 74

Veteran sailor and polar explorer Ken Burton discusses the story of RCMP’s Henry Larsen and his journey through the Arctic

  • Jan 16, 2024
Polar explorer and RCGS Fellow Ken Burton. (Photo courtesy Ken Burton)
Expand Image
Henry Larsen on the St. Roch. (Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada)
Expand Image

The pack-ice ’round us cracks and groans;
The old St. Roch, she creaks and moans.
– Stan Rogers 

In 1940, the wooden-hulled St. Roch became the second ship to successfully sail the Northwest Passage and the first to do it from west to east, captained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Henry Larsen. Our guest on this episode, Ken Burton, recreated that voyage 60 years later on another RCMP ship, the St. Roch II. A new RCGS Fellow, veteran sailor and polar explorer, Burton shares the incredible story of Larsen and the St. Roch‘s two-and-a-half-year journey through the Arctic ice in the early days of World War II and its secret mission to invade Greenland. He also shares the story of his own incredible Northwest Passage journey on the St. Roch II and how that trip set the speed record for the circumnavigation of North America. 

As well as being an RCMP Coastal Commander and expedition leader in the Arctic and Antarctic, Ken Burton has served as Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Society and the Executive Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Ken Burton on board the St. Roch II with the late Louie Kamookak, Inuit oral historian and RCGS Fellow. (Photo courtesy Ken Burton)
Expand Image
The RCMP Ship St. Roch II sailing the Northwest Passage in 2000, recreating the route of Henry Larsen. (Photo courtesy Ken Burton)
Expand Image

Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

The St. Roch

People & Culture

Northwest Passage trailblazer

Meet the first Canadian to navigate the treacherous Arctic sea route

  • 704 words
  • 3 minutes
The Canopy Tour at Haliburton Forest


Finding wolves, deep-fried wood and a submarine in Haliburton Forest

How Ontario's Haliburton Forest balances preservation with profit

  • 914 words
  • 4 minutes


Throwback Thursday: crossing the Northwest Passage

Remembering the historic voyage to complete the elusive Northwest Passage from west to east.

  • 283 words
  • 2 minutes


Searching for hope on deep coral reefs in Guadeloupe

How research on little-known “marine animal forests” could shine a light on ocean hope spots — and why they need protecting

  • 2393 words
  • 10 minutes